Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Back Yard Camp-Out

The weather has been unusually cool lately so Jon decided it was the perfect time for him to have a camp out with the kids in the back yard.  
They set up our smaller tent near the fire ring...
...and built a great, big camp fire.
We have the most lovely back yard neighbors.  Aren't these horses beautiful?  The little one in front is a very young horse. He loves to come to the fence to say hi.  

Polly and I visited the camp site for a while but opted to sleep inside.

Charlotte introduced Polly to bubbles.  She's looking for them after they've popped. Very confusing stuff.

They played flashlight tag in the dark and caught fireflies.  In the morning, Jon made them bacon and eggs over the campfire.  Jon, you're the best.  Charlotte and Evan are so lucky to have you as a dad!

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Best Coconut Cream Pie (Dairy Free)

In response to Jon's pleas of "PLEASE make pie!!" lately, I created the most wonderful coconut cream pies (if I do say so myself).  They're cool, sweet, and smooth without the addition of shredded coconut. The perfect summer dessert.  They happen to be dairy free but my family agrees that they're insanely good... dairy or no dairy.  I'm so sad they're gone. We ate them in record time. 

I blind baked my favorite crust recipe.... the pie crust recipe my mom always used and now my sister and I use. It's from the "big red cookbook" aka: "The Good Housekeeping Cookbook" circa 1973. The instructions are mine... based on a lot of trial and error.

Flaky Pastry (for two - 9" blind baked crusts)

2 cups all purpose flour (learn from my mistakes... don't use whole wheat)
1 tsp. salt (I like the salt in the crust but you can reduce this amount by half if you don't want the crust to taste slightly salty)
3/4 cup solid fat (cold butter, shortening, coconut oil at solid room temp*see notes below*)
5-6 Tbsp. of ice cold water

*Stir together flour and salt. Cut in the fat until the crumbs are smaller then garden peas (for butter and shortening) or the dough looks like cornmeal (coconut oil).  Add ice water and stir until dough starts to come together.
 *Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead ONLY a few times to get the dough to come together. If the dough is falling apart, you need more water. If the dough is sticking to everything, you need more flour.  You want it to just hold together in a ball.
*Divide the dough in half and press it into round disks. Wrap disks in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30-60. You want them cold but not solid.  If the dough is too cold and won't roll out, let it sit at room temperature for a few minutes.
*Roll out the dough on a floured surface and gently arrange in an ungreased pie plate. Don't stretch the dough when you put it into your pie pan because this will cause it to shrink when you bake it.  This recipe works best in regular pie pans... not deep dish (like I used in the pictures above). It's a little too small to fit nicely but you can fudge it if you roll it pretty thin.
*Put the crust back into the refrigerator for an hour. You want your crust as cold as they can get.
*Preheat the oven to 425*
*Line your pie crusts with parchment paper and fill with dried beans or pie weights.  Bake for 12-15 minutes or until the edges of the crust are golden brown.  Carefully remove the paper and the weights/beans and put the crusts back in the oven for 5-10 minutes or until the crust is golden brown all over.  Let cool fully while you make the filling.

*** I used coconut oil as the fat in the crust recipe... which can be tricky.  Usually in a crust recipe you want to refrigerate the dough before rolling it out. This would make the coconut oil bits rock hard and they would become a problem with rolling.  With coconut oil, I roll out the dough right after mixing the dough and refrigerate AFTER I put them in the ungreased pie plate.

Coconut Pastry Cream(aka: the filling for the pie)*Makes enough for 2 pies
*Before you start making the filling, go put an unshaken can of coconut milk in the fridge so it'll be ready for the topping later*

2 cans whole fat coconut milk (try to get the coconut milk without any thickeners or additives.  It's in the Asian foods section of most stores. Our Walmart carries 3 brands! The one I buy has only coconut milk and water as the ingredients.
12 egg yolks (freeze the whites for use another time)
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup corn starch
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. coconut extract

*Bring the coconut milk to a slight simmer over medium heat (just until bubbles are just forming around the edges.
*In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, and salt.
*When the coconut milk is at a simmer, add a ladle full to the yolk mixture, whisking constantly to prevent the yolks from scrambling.  Repeat this step another time or two until 2-3 ladle fulls of hot coconut milk have been whisked into the yolk mixture.
*Slowly pour the yolk mixture into the pan with the coconut milk WHISKING constantly!!  Continue whisking until the custard gets thick.
*Remove from heat and add the vanilla and coconut extracts. Stir well.
*Pour into the cooled pie crusts and cover with plastic wrap (touching the surface of the custard to prevent a skin forming)
*Refrigerate until cold (2-3 hours).

Coconut Cream Pie Topping 
1 cold can of coconut milk without thickeners or additives
2 Tbsp. honey (or light corn syrup if you don't like honey)
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1-2 drops of coconut extract

*Gently turn the can of cold coconut milk upside down and open the can with a can opener.  Carefully drain the coconut water from the can without disturbing the firm coconut cream that rose to the top.  Save the coconut water for smoothies or baking.
*Scoop the chilled coconut cream out of the can and into a mixing bowl.  Add honey and beat with an electric mixer with a whisk attachment for ~2 minutes or until it's creamy and slightly fluffy.
*Divide topping between the two cold pies and refrigerate again for another hour or so.  The longer it's in the fridge, the easier it will be to slice.

I coudln't wait that long so my filling was a little soft on this first slice but I didn't mind one bit because it was so completely delicious!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Mid July Garden

I absolutely love my garden.  I love going out to see what's ready to harvest, what has grown overnight, what is done and needs swapping out for a new plant. This is going to be a year round garden so the season doesn't end with summer.  I've started mapping out my fall garden plan and I just planted my fall/winter carrot seeds. 
Evan is in charge of keeping the watermelon vines in the row. He's gotten good at gently picking up the unruly vines and moving them. Next year I'll have to give the watermelons more room to spread out.
We have baby watermelons!
I'm harvesting my pickling cucumbers now. I bought some pickling spice mix today so we can soon try making our own pickles. Kosher dill, of course. 

The corn is growing well.

This is our first Mr. Stripey tomato. It was almost 2 pounds! It's an heirloom variety and I'm so glad I have four Mr. Stripey plants. It's delicious. Very sweet and very low acid.  I'm not a huge fan of raw tomatoes unless they're on a sandwich but I love this type of tomato.

Here are the tomatoes that have started producing (from left to right)   Cherokee Purple, Roma, Juliet, Early Girl, and Super Sweet 100... and of course Mr. Stripey in the back.  I can't wait until all of the different varieties are producing.
The zucchini and squash plants were slowing down and I needed the space to be able to get to the tomato plants more easily so I took them out.
So much easier to reach tomatoes now.  This week I'll roll up the plastic and save it for next year. The black plastic worked so well and I definitely plan to use it again next year.

Charlotte loves harvesting carrots.  Polly takes the tops from her and plays with them in the aisle after Charlotte separates it from the carrot.
Evan helped me with the onions.  The weeds got away from me and by the time I could deal with it, they were too big to remove. I would have damaged the onions taking out the weeds. So, I lost a good many onions to rot but luckily I still have plenty.
The onions from sets are on the far left and the two piles to the right are from onion plants.  The plants far out performed the sets.

Evan took these pictures of our wild morning glories. I love this picture of his hand and the flower.
It's too bad the morning glories are constantly trying to take over our garden because they are so beautiful.

Our fig tree has bounced back from it's frost damage and severe pruning quite well. The tree is now short enough for me to reach the branches. There are small fruits forming now.

This side of the garden will be the first to get fall vegetables planted since everything has either been harvested or will be harvested very soon.  So far I have planted more carrot seeds and rutabagas.

This side of the garden is just getting going. Tomatoes, cukes, melons, all kinds of winter squash, many kinds of corn.... so exciting!
Here's a panoramic picture. If you click on it, it should enlarge the picture.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Food Of Summer

I love cooking and baking. Summer allows me the time to really get in the kitchen and do some serious work.... and make lots of dirty dishes.  I went to see "Chef" with my mom at the theater last week and it inspired a whole new cooking frenzy.  I wish I could get paid for this! But really, for as much money as I've saved us this summer by cooking from scratch and from the garden, I am almost getting paid for it. 
 Coconut Zucchini Muffins - Very good... even better split open and toasted in the toaster oven until the edges are crunchy.
 Chocolate Zucchini Cake - I use 2 cups of shredded zucchini instead of 3 and it's perfect! No squash hater would ever guess zucchini was the secret to keeping this cake moist.
 Really?  I was surprised too.

 Roasted green beans. My new favorite way to cook them.  Toss green beans with a little oil (I used coconut oil but any would do) and some salt and pepper. Roast them at 4:25* until the tips start to turn brown.  I couldn't stop eating them.

 Kid's Choice Chip and Fruit Cookies - I reduced the sugar by half and used lots of unsweetened coconut and some chocolate chunks instead of nuts and fruit.
 Zucchini cakes - Shredded zucchini squeezed dry, add bread crumbs, an egg or two, salt and pepper... pan fry until crisp. Serve with marinara sauce.  Even Charlotte loved these.  (I used yellow zucchini)

 An entirely non-store meal.  The eggs were courtesy of my sister's hens but the potatoes and sugar snap peas were from our garden.

 My new favorite way to cut a watermelon. I make it "naked" as the kids say by cutting off each end, standing it up and then carefully cutting off the rind.  It's so much easier then trying to cut the watermelon off of wobbly triangles.
 Then the naked watermelon can be cut up into nice disks and then squares.

 Sauteed garden vegetables (except for the corn) waiting to be tossed with pasta.

 Charlotte learned to make scrambled eggs.

Cherry sale = preserving 
 Because these were sweet cherries, the dried cherries tasted like raisins, sadly. Luckily I froze most of the cherries so I can use them in smoothies, oatmeal, etc.
 Charlotte helped me in the kitchen one morning. She cut zucchini and lined it up in the dehydrator.  She's a great help.

Chunky Homemade Granola - our new favorite granola recipe.  I use whatever I have in the cabinet for the add-ins but lately it's been a lot of unsweetened coconut.  I press it into the pan and I don't stir it until the edges brown. Then I just carefully flip over sections of the granola to avoid breaking up the chunks for the remainder of the cooking.

 Baguette pan baguettes - These are my favorite baguettes. They're crunchy when toasted but not tough to chew. They have great flavor.  I make them with half All Purpose and half Whole Wheat flour.  They're SO good. I was lucky enough to find my baguette pans at a thrift store a few years ago. I don't think anyone else knew what they were. I think I paid $2 for them.

 Last week I made homemade pasta.  It took a while but it was fun work.  I dried it on my drying rack and then bagged it for storage.
 We had some for lunch that day with just butter and salt. Very delicious!

 My new favorite lunch... Mr. Stripey tomato from the garden on top of buttered, sliced, and toasted homemade baguettes.  So, so good.

 Our Favorite Sandwich Bread - No really. That's the name of the recipe and, in fact, it is!  I use half whole wheat and half all purpose flour.  This bread is sturdy enough for PB&J sandwiches.
 When some of my baguettes turn out a little flatter then I'd like, I found a way to slice them so I still get plenty of surface area for toppings.

 I turn the baguette on it's side and slice at a sharp angle. Watch those fingers!
Ta-da! Lots of room for a big tomato slice!

Ooo! Jon just cleaned the kitchen. You know what that means, don't you? My pans are ready for another round of baking! Gotta go!
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